Border Patrol officials struggling to keep up with the increasing number of minors illegally crossing the Mexican border are not turning away persons with known gang affiliations. Chris Cabrera, vice president of the National Border Patrol Council Local 3307 in the Rio Grande Valley, explained that a Border Patrol agent he represents helped reunite a teenage gang member with his family in the United States. Cabrera notes the young member of Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13), a transnational criminal gang, had no criminal record in the U.S., but asks, “If he’s a confirmed gang member in his own country, why are we letting him in here?”
“I’ve heard people come in and say, ‘You’re going to let me go, just like you let my mother go, just like you let my sister go. You’re going to let me go as well, and the government’s going to take care of us,’” Cabrera says. “Until we start mandatory detentions, mandatory removals, I don’t think anything is going to change. As a matter of fact, I think it’s going to get worse.”
Art Del Cueto, president of the National Border Patrol Council Local 2544 in Tucson, says agents who recognize the gang-affiliated tattoos of minors crossing the border must treat them the same as anybody else. He says these people are afforded the same rights provided to anyone crossing the border.
“It’s upsetting that a lot of them are 16 or 17 years old and a lot of them are not going to face deportation,” Cueto says. He has visited the Nogales station, which he estimates is holding 1,100 children who crossed the border. The children have been sent from the Rio Grande Valley in Texas and have also crossed the border near the Nogales station, he says.
Cabrera says the Rio Grande Valley has nine stations and the largest one, in McAllen, Texas, has a capacity of approximately 275 people. Cabrera says this station is seeing between 700 and 1,500 people daily and received 74 women and children in a 20-minute period earlier this week. Cabrera says he thinks the surge in unaccompanied children crossing the border is policy-based.
He says the Border Patrol stations in the Rio Grande Valley are short-term facilities, not designed to hold people for more than a couple of days. As a result, Border Patrol officials have taken responsibility for the well-being of the illegal immigrants, providing sandwiches and water three times a day. “You would not believe how many sandwiches I’ve made over the course of my career,” Cabrera says. In Nogales, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials have brought in vendors to provide food, while FEMA has sought to provide counseling and recreational activities, according to FoxNews.com. Cueto says the children are being vaccinated before being turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials. ICE is then transporting them to military bases in California, Oklahoma, and San Antonio, Texas, according to CBS Houston.
“It’s just frustrating to know that we do all this paperwork just for them to walk out the door,” Cabrera says. “When these people get released they call back home and they say, ‘Hey, you know what? We got released, and if you come with your family they’re going to release you as well.’”
Both Cabrera and Cueto said local Central American media have played a role in encouraging the children to cross the border. Cabrera says he knows of television commercial spots that encourage people to go to the U.S. with their children because they won’t be turned away. KRGV Channel 5 News, in the Rio Grande Valley, reported that a mother and daughter traveled to America because they believed America’s borders to be open after Guatemalan news reports that said mothers and small children are getting bus tickets. “I said I need to act right now because this will end and my girl won’t have a future,” the mother said in Spanish to KRGV. Cueto says when he asked a group of children about their motivation, they spoke of the “announcer on the radio” who encouraged them to head for the United States. Cueto says Central American radio, television, other media, and religious groups have all encouraged people to move north to the United States.
— Ryan Lovelace is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.